Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach

first published in German 2011

this version, translated by Anthea Bell, published 2012






[A young lawyer, Leinen, is visiting a much more senior member of his own profession]

The room was dark, not much larger than Leinen’s own office, with a simple desk, a wooden chair with arms at the desk, no visitors’ chairs, a yellow lamp, a black phone with a circular dial. The walls were panelled in mahogany, bookshelves were built into the side walls, and there were broad wooden venetian blinds over both windows. It looked like an office from the 1920s. A large cigar box stood on the desk, black wood with pale intarsia work. Mattinger had his feet up on the desk and was dozing; his tie had slipped, saliva trickled from the right-hand corner of his mouth. A few red files lay in front of him; Leinen could see from the names on them that they were being dealt with by other lawyers in the chambers. Mattinger woke with a jolt…

‘I like your room.’

‘I bought it 30 years ago from a building on the Kurfurstendamm that was being renovated, had it installed here. It’s said to have belonged to a famous notary.’

‘It’s wonderful.’

‘Maybe a little too dark,’ said Mattinger. ‘But I’m used to that now.'





observations: There’s been a lot of talk about this book on the crime fiction blogs, and I’ve come late to it: but  I was given it as a present by a dear friend (thank you Jo) and have now read it.

It is a most unusual book: von Schirach is a German lawyer who has turned to writing, and has been very successful. But this particular story has, you would guess, been constructed with one purpose only, which is to point out a strange anomaly in German law. It is a good story and very compelling: he has done his job well, and the book is short (under 200 pages), sharp and powerful. An Italian man, Fabrizio Collini, makes an appointment to see a prominent German industrialist, Hans Meyer, in a hotel in Berlin. He turns up, and shoots Meyer. Then he waits in the hotel lobby for the police to arrive. He makes no attempt to escape, or to resist arrest, or to deny the charge. But he will not explain – at this time – why he killed Meyer. The young lawyer Leinin is appointed as his representative. Leinin finds out that the victim is someone he knew as a child. After consulting with Mattinger, above, he decides to continue with the case despite this. He investigates, and eventually finds out the truth about the two men. You can probably guess some of the threads that might be behind this, but the points of law involved are extremely well-presented, and you probably wouldn’t guess exactly what is the problem that von Schirach has exposed in the system.

There is a lot more to say about the issues, and von Schirach’s own family history is relevant. This is a case where AFTER reading the book most people will want to read more comment, discussion and facts about it - so here are some helpful links.

Many of my blogging friends  have reviewed the book: I would particularly recommend two pieces by Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More. Bill is a lawyer in Canada, and his considerable knowledge and experience add a lot to his blogpost – he helpfully did one post WITHOUT SPOILERS and one WITH SPOILERS. Bernadette Inoz looks closely at some of the issues and controversial aspects of the book in this blogpost: the comments below this piece are also well worth reading for some further viewpoints. I can also recommend reviews by Margot Kinberg at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog, and TracyK at Bitter Tea and Mystery.

The top picture from the Library of Congress shows a lawyer in Texas. The bottom picture, same source, was one I used for this blog entry on Robert Galbraith’s book The Silkworm.

16 comments:

  1. Thanks very much for the kind mention, Moira. This is, as you say, a most unusual book. I found it fascinating that von Schirach was able to put a human face on that anomaly in German law - not an easy thing to do - and help readers understand it better. And yet, as you say, the pace is fact and strong, and he doesn't spend a lot of time exploring characters' interactions and their lives. It's definitely one of those books I'm going to be thinking about for a while.

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    1. Yes I agree with all you say, and I found your review very helpful when I read it after reading the book.

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  2. SNAP! Smacks hand down on laptop! I have this, so have semi-skimmed the review. I think I'll be the last one in the blogoverse to eventually read this but nice to establish some common ground again.

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    1. Finally! It's been a long wait I know. When I looked up to see who had done reviews on it, I saw your comments that you would get round to it....

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  3. Moira, I'm fascinate by this book too and I'll see if I can include it in my proposed reading of non-English fiction. Incidentally, I'm very familiar with the translator, Anthea Bell, who co-translated the Asterix comics from Dutch/French into English. She and the late Derek Hockridge translated most of the comics and introduced us to the immense joys of reading the adventures of the Gaulish warrior and his friend Obelix.

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    1. Prtashant I'll be very interested to see your take on it. What a very talented woman Anthea Bell must be!

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  4. I wasn't too keen on this book when I read it - I don't think it was what I expected - but may re-read it, as I'm clearly in a minority! I love the idea of having spoilers/ no spoilers posts - The Other Typist was one book I read recently which I'd have liked to "debate" with others, as there was clearly different opinions regarding the ending! But I appreciate it's a lot of work for bloggers!

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    1. I agree with you - 'spoiler' posts are a great idea, and another way the internet has improved the possibilities of book discussions. We should encourage bloggers to do it more.

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  5. It was good to revisit this novel again. I enjoyed revisiting the reviews you linked to (even my own). And thanks for including my review. This is indeed an unusual and unique book, one that makes you think, which is very important.

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    1. Tracy I very much agree with you, and I found it fascinating to read everyone's view after I'd finished the book. One of the advantages of coming late to it is that there was so much to read afterwards,

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  6. Moira: Thank you for the kind words and links to my blog.

    Well done for finding a way to review and promote discussion of the book without spoilers. Reviewing this book is a challenge.

    It is striking how much discussion has taken place about the book. You have rightly emphasized readers of the book will want to comment and learn more about the issues involved.

    I am glad you enjoyed the book.

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    1. Thank you, Bill, for providing such a great resource once I'd read it, I was glad to be able to encourage others to go there. And yes, it really is a book that provokes discussion and comment - as exemplified by the number of comments here! And as Crimeworm says above, your idea of spoiler and non-spoiler posts is brilliant, and should be encouraged...

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  7. I thought this was a very important book in which it reveals about the German justice system relating to WWII. I was shocked, but not totally surprised at the revelations.
    What's more important it caused discussions about the laws inside Germany. Hopefully, it will lead to some revisions in the laws, although it may be well past the time when it would have made a difference.
    Mrs Peabody Investigates had an excellent discussion going on about this book, and she (Katherina Hall) was going to follow up to see if any changes had resulted from the book.

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    1. I agree Kathy, and I found the level of debate most interesting. I would love to know what will happen in the German legal system, if there will be any changes arising from this book.

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  8. Great to revisit this book and the wider topics it raises for discussion. I missed Bill's excellent two posts on this book so thanks for linking to them. Fascinating reading - especially the spoiler-filled one which I was able to read as I've already read the book (and do agree it is an excellent practice - one I can see myself doing in the future - hope Bill won't mind if I borrow his idea).

    I love how your picture at the top immediately says "lawyer" - it doesn't seem to matter the nationality - there does seem to be a 'look' to the lawyering profession

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    1. Thanks Bernadette - this was definitely a case where what my children call crowd-sourcing came into play: I found everyone else's comments useful, and so did my readers. Yes, that was a good idea of Bill's, and one that could be used more.

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